Learning, Knowledge and Change

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In this session, Jamie Watts, Carl Jackson and Lucie Lamoureux presented their views on the complementarities and differences between knowledge, learning and change. The facilitator, Nancy White, encouraged the presenters to explore the boundaries of these notions as part of the workshop’s efforts to break down differences in terminology between the fields of organizational learning and knowledge management to identify common understandings and practice. Indeed, all the presenters described significant though unique ways that these notions overlap, depend on one another and even sometimes clash, prompting the facilitator to describe the emerging picture at the end of the session as ‘a blob’ to capture the sense of the dissolving boundaries. Comments from the plenary corroborated the general sense that none of the existing theoretical paradigms have yet managed to capture the complexity of the issues faced by practitioners. Most participants, however, expressed confidence such approaches hold the potential for planting a seed for change within an organization, no matter how slowly it may grow.

Knowledge Presetnation (Lucie)

  • artificial to look at KM and organisational learning
  • doesn't make a difference at the end of my day
  • Bruce's paper - OL approaches are simliar to KM approaches
  • we are 'doing' KM for learning
  • assumption that OL and KM will lead to more effective development; is that really the case? there have been years of development yet it isn't clear what has been learned
  • what makes a learning organisation a learning organisation? how do organisations become learning organisations?
  • patience is in short supply
  • we need spaces to grow; km4dev has had room to grow but in most organisations the room isn't there
  • we need to look at ourselves and question our values and motivations
  • change seems best achieved through trojan horses or stealth approaches ie. start with little things that cause ripples

Learning Presentation (Jaime)

  • representing a small project within the CGIAR; a loose amalgamation of 15 agriculture centres workign to improve ag productivity for poor people
  • project problem: we are working in an increasingly complex world ie. multidimensioal, context in which we are working is changing is so fast, social change, ICT change, globalisation yet we are still working as though we are living in the 50s;
  • the old paradigm is still around ie. in the case of the CG, the centres are centres of excellence (focus on technology transfer)
  • a grassroots project was born to help the CG centres to deal with the problem
  • addressed the problem by bringing together a small group of people with different expertise ie. impact assessment, project planning and implementataion, innovation systems;
  • look at ways to change the direction of the ship; to stimulate learning from past experiences for change purposes
  • the DRC model, thought simple, is useful (take picture and insert here)
  • there are three factors that influence performance
  1. internal environment ie. culture, incentive systems, structure, management
  2. skills and capacity
  3. external environment ie. donor influence, governing structure
  • two words underpinning the framework: paradigm and power
  • paradigm: linear vs complexity ways of working which makes it difficult to find common ground
  • power: at a number of levels
  • if you want to change the behaviour of an organisation, you need to think in this sphere

Change Presentation (Carl)

  • addressed how people involved in change process look at knowledge and learning
  • one set of ideas about change: change is a necessary traumatic event; a period in which they can change into something different (more positive)
  • another set: change just happens; the reasons for change haven't been thought through which leads to changes in the way people think of each other; this seems to dominate the change world
  • in a classical way to look at change there are few positive views of knowledge ie. knowledge is seen as a gap; something that people need when the organisation is going through a change
  • some positive ideas but it is about knowledge outside the organisation which need to be brought in
  • knowledge is not generally seen as part of the change process
  • learning process takes centre stage; no room for KM
  • on the other hand, OD and OL have a very positive view of learning
  • one approach is to introduce an overwhelming anxiety for learning that reduces the anxiety over the change; construct a desire for new learning; people end up being happy coming into a new world
  • another is one centered on motivational opportunities (more of a mechanistic view)
  • OD perspective: learning of the whole organisation rather than individual learning; change is a continuous state and learning is how to cope with the change
  • learning is central but knowledge isn't seen as having a life of its own
  • people working in KM should be thinking how to better use the learning language if they want to get the attention of the ODers

Open Discussion

  • OD and OL have an idea of human behaviour which is in KM but not emphasized
  • whose knowledge is valued? centralised expert over and above the complex group of actors; can we change the power
  • valuing process vs outcome; is there a balance?
  • does it matter what lens we take
  • in practice the terms don't matter so much
  • concern that km practitioners aren't referring back to what is going on in OD and OL
  • it is only relevant during the uptake of the process
  • how do you get information and mechanisms set up where people are looking at what's working or not, at a wider set of options; if you can never get at chance performance
  • little changes, the ripples that come together than make the change
  • there is no magic bullet; no one answer; it is emergent and constantly changing that is why a community is so important
  • performance (expert) is the enemy of learning
  • emergence; people aren't comfortable with the ideas of emergence; there is a need for conceptual clarity but also being open to changing your point of view
  • Robert Chia (1994); western concept of a tree vs eastern (need to ask Alim to explain further)
  • complexity theory provides another lens; the idea is to get comfortable with the lenses; projects are defined in a linear way (which is needed for funding); the way that they are implemented is an

obstacle to learning; if we can bring complexity theory into the planning and implementation

  • trojan horse was successful for the greeks but is it a model for development? are small things enough? we need to be producing evidence that these processes work; learn from successes that make a difference otherwise it is dismissed as a fad
  • what makes a change agent? challenge for the change agents as seagulls;
  • if you get key people in certain positions, we might be able to move things more quickly ie. get to managers, people who have decision making abilities
  • need to have a vision for the change; vision is the key leverage point
  • tension between humility and certainty (unknowingness); the only way to learn is through failure;
  • culture of iterative and provisional decision making
  • from the perspective of practitioner, the distinctions are especially blurry. Knowledge management, for example, is employed for the sake of learning, while learning can only be conducted democratically with a careful examination of whose knowledge you value
  • the sectors outside of private enterprise appear to be behind in mainstreaming knowledge management. What are the major obstacles and how patient should we be? What pace of change can and should we expect?
  • What does increasing complexity and dispersion do to a learning organization? How can each of these approaches contribute to ripples that extend throughout a large organization?
  • the process of learning and change must take into account external and internal factors, the capacity of an organization and the individuals that comprise that organization, and the measure of performance. It must also consider the role of power, particularly in how agendas are set. With so many imponderables and uncertainty, how wise is it to focus on deliberate and directed change?
  • the knowledge management approach has assumed change to be a traumatic and painful event for inherently conservative organizations. This approach has at times commoditized knowledge, portraying it as an input or as a deficit when confronting external change, though rarely as an actor itself with agency to cause change. Organization learning, however, has privileged the metaphor of ecology and adaptation.
  • knowledge management places the emphasis much more on effectiveness rather than on the legitimacy of the process that generates knowledge.
  • defining these terms, however, may not be a valuable exercise since they are, like organizations, constantly in flux and often in the eye of the beholder. There’s need for conceptual clarity, but also for being open to changing your idea of what each means.
  • despite what this group may agree upon, the large donors still remain to be convinced, and this requires articulating success more effectively.
  • the culture of expertise common even within the fields of organizational learning and knowledge management may itself be an impediment to stated goals of the fields, particularly in shifting power to Southern organizations. Is there a culture of misplaced certainty?